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Morning Jay: Why Mourdock Defeated Lugar

6:00 AM, May 11, 2012 • By JAY COST
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Regarding Dick Lugar’s loss to Richard Murdock, the Old Gray Lady wants you to know one thing: He went down because he was just too gosh-darned moderate and sensible for those insane Tea Party Republicans in Indiana and the dastardly outside groups that targeted him:

Richard G. Lugar, one of the Senate’s longest-serving members, a collegial moderate who personified a gentler political era, was turned out of office on Tuesday, ending a career that had spanned the terms of half a dozen presidents.

Mr. Lugar, a six-term senator from Indiana who had won most of his recent elections with more than 60 percent of the vote, only received 39.4 percent of the vote on Tuesday, losing a hard-fought Republican primary to Richard E. Mourdock, the state treasurer. Mr. Mourdock’s campaign was fueled by Tea Party groups and national conservative organizations that deemed Mr. Lugar too willing to compromise and poured millions of dollars into the campaign to defeat him.

Mr. Lugar, 80, had not faced a challenge from within his own party since his first election to the Senate in 1976, and his defeat seemed to serve as a caution to moderates on both sides of the aisle.

And on and on it goes for two-dozen paragraphs. Poor Senator Lugar. Just too sane for that crazy GOP. Ezra Klein, naturally, sees his loss as the latest signal that the entire GOP has political rabies:

Whether the Republican Party is “the problem” is a subjective judgment. Perhaps you loathe taxes and, in the face of all available evidence, consider global warming a hoax. In that case, the Republican Party is doing exactly what it should be doing. But there is simply no denying that the Republican Party has gone much further right than the Democratic Party has gone left, and that, from policy pledges to primary challenges, it has done much more to discourage its members from compromising than the Democratic Party has.

I love the straw man argument there: Sure, the GOP is a sensible place to be…if you “loathe” taxes and have buried your head in the sand about global warming. In other words, you may not find the GOP so nutty if you are in fact a nut! Sadly for Lugar, he was not a nut, so he lost.

I really have no interest in debating Klein or the Times about what constitutes moderation and what doesn’t. Plenty of Beltway liberals see themselves as centrist-pragmatists, and so they wind up placing conservatives on the extreme right of the political discourse. Arguing with them on this is like pounding sand.

What I find much more interesting is how neither the New York Times nor Klein nor many other liberal pundits picked up on the glaringly obvious problem Lugar faced in Indiana.

Put simply, people around the country are angry with what is going on in Washington. They think politicians are out of touch and that they take voters for granted – and so Lugar had a glaring weakness that a well-positioned challenger could exploit.

Let’s take my contention point-by-point.

1. People are angry. Check out the right track/wrong track numbers from RealClearPolitics.

Now, how about congressional job approval?

Both these charts suggest a bipartisan consensus: People on both sides of the aisle think things in D.C. are seriously screwed up right now.

2. They think politicians are out of touch. Not only do an overwhelmingly majority of Americans think that most members of Congress should not be reelected, they are also increasingly coming to think that about their own members.

Historically, that has been the great paradox in polling about Congress: people hated the institution but loved their own member. Not so much anymore. Here is the Gallup poll from November.

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